The Secret Garden
7th September 2023
Archie Ferguson joined the Royal Hospital Chelsea in June 2022 and has spent his first year here transforming a once desolate outside space into a magical retreat. Much loved by his fellow Chelsea Pensioners and Royal Hospital staff alike, it is also known as the Secret Garden. Archie shared with us his inspiration and thought behind the garden, his love for the outdoors and what else he is working on at the Royal Hospital.
When we were kids, we all had a garden
I got into gardening when we were kids, we all had a garden. Back then, everybody had a garden and my mom and dad had to grow things; I was one of five kids, everybody was poor, so it was part of our inheritance. Sometimes when things were very tough, mom would say go and get some veg for lunch. Later, I realised there wasn’t anything else other than sprouts or cabbage or carrots from the garden.
And that was something that inspired me. I just love creation – you’ve got a little seed; you pop it into the dark and there we go. The miracle of growth!
I jumped at it and a year later, here we are
When I came on my four-day interview at the Royal Hospital, I was told I would be able to get an allotment. That was the turning point for me because I wanted an allotment. When I came, unfortunately there wasn’t any available but because the staff are switched on here, they said what about transforming this outside space? It was just a corridor, or a yard. So, I jumped at it and a year later, here we are.
We all have powerful, important memories – it’s important to keep them alive
I discovered after being at the Hospital for a little bit of time, a lot of people want to talk about the past. Leaving home and coming here is a big step for everybody, so they love coming to the garden and talking.
I have a sign here and it’s a bit of a nod to the Army, to our past life. All the places on the sign are places people have been. You will see Hamlin for example, everybody in the engineers did bridge building in Hamlin. Largo, if you were in the tanks. Afghan… and that would open doors for conversation.
Myself, I went to lots of different places. My life was catering, so I’ve been with many different military setups and the first one I was trained as a hospital chef and dietitian. My first posting was BMH Hospital in Nicosia, Cyprus. I went to three different postings with different units in Cyprus. I was there when the Turks invaded and that was a big catering job – feeding 20,000 refugees in the forest.
I think one of my biggest challenges was catering for a thousand people when I went to Kenya on exercise for three months in the jungle. Setting up and feeding the unit there was a big challenge!
It is a part of everything!
I like this garden because it is part of everything, yet it’s so little. People refer to it as a secret garden and somehow there is something precious about that. It has given me such joy and meeting other people and talking, it’s a must! I visit daily, and it’s nice to see what is blooming or what bugs come to visit. I come with different people in the evening to sit and read and pray, which people enjoy doing – it feeds our souls after supper.
A blank canvas...
At the beginning of the month, we were asked if we could come up with something to improve the big balcony on Campbell Ward. Campbell Ward is where about 20 people live with dementia. It is a beautiful, vast space and we want to create somewhere people with dementia can go and enjoy.
My wife had Alzheimer’s for 10 years, so I am aware of the change in personality and loss of life. So, this project is something very special to me. I want to create a space to stimulate new and good thoughts. We are hoping to make it into a beautiful, peaceful garden for people to sit, relax and enjoy. A place they can get new inspiration to help with their health and wellbeing.
It will be a good year’s work, but it is exciting. If it helps stimulate the folks who live there, then it’s a winner for me!